The official version of the Kandahar massacre becomes more improbable by the day:
WASHINGTON - U.S. investigators believe the U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians split the slaughter into two episodes, returning to his base after the first attack and later slipping away to kill again, two American officials said Saturday.
This scenario seems to support the U.S. government's assertion — contested by some Afghans — that the killings were done by one person, since they would have been perpetrated over a longer period of time than assumed when Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was detained March 11 outside his base in southern Afghanistan.
But it also raises new questions about how Bales, who was formally charged Friday with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes, could have carried out the nighttime attacks without drawing attention from any Americans on the Kandahar province base.
The two American officials who disclosed the investigators' finding spoke on condition of anonymity because the politically sensitive probe is ongoing.
Night raids — surprise attacks by US soldiers on houses they suspect are associated with the Taliban, are common in this volatile region. “The Americans usually pick one house to raid, and then they leave.”
But a few moments later residents from neighboring houses began fleeing to Habibullah’s, telling everyone to hide. The attacker — or attackers — soon followed, he said.
“I didn’t hear a lot of shooting and I didn’t hear helicopters,” Habibullah recalled. But he did see “two or three Americans” enter his compound, “using lights and firing at my father, who was wounded.”
Karzai also spoke to Mullah Baran. Baran’s brother was killed in the shooting spree, but he didn’t see the shooting happen. Baran said he told Karzai what his sister-in-law, who was at the scene, had told him.
When GlobalPost asked Baran to speak directly with his sister-in-law, he initially refused.
“You don’t need to talk [with] her,” Baran said. “I did, and I can tell you the story.”
Eventually Baran relented, allowing GlobalPost to interview her by phone.
Massouma, who lives in the neighboring village of Najiban, where 12 people were killed, said she heard helicopters fly overhead as a uniformed soldier entered her home. She said he flashed a “big, white light,” and yelled, “Taliban! Taliban! Taliban!”
Massouma said the soldier shouted “walkie-talkie, walkie-talkie.” The rules of engagement in hostile areas in Afghanistan permit US soldiers to shoot Afghans holding walkie-talkies because they could be Taliban spotters.
“He had a radio antenna on his shoulder. He had a walkie-talkie himself, and he was speaking into it,” she said.
After the soldier with the walkie-talkie killed her husband, she said he lingered in the doorway of her home.
“While he stood there, I secretly looked through the curtains and saw at least 20 Americans, with heavy weapons, searching all the rooms in our compound, as well as my bathroom,” she said.
At this point, there are so many competing versions, it's hard to know what to believe. Mostly, I believe somebody's lying, I just don't know who.